Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
—Sgt. Phil Esterhaus in The Teaser of every episode
Hill Street Blues was a serial police drama that was first aired on NBC and ran for 146 episodes from 1981-1987. Chronicling the lives of the staff of a police precinct in an unnamed American city, the show received high critical acclaim and its innovations proved highly influential on serious dramatic television series produced in North America. Its debut season was honored with eight Emmy awards, a debut season record surpassed only by The West Wing, and the show received a total of 98 Emmy Award nominations during its run.The series was unique at the time for being the first to bring together several ideas in TV drama:
The conflict between work life and home life is explored, as well as the conflict between doing what is right and doing what works.
Many camera techniques, such as tight closeups, use of offscreen dialogue, rapid cuts between stories, and use of handheld cameras rather than floor cameras, give the series a "documentary" feel.
Almost every episode starts with "roll-call", and many episodes are written to take place over the course of a single day (a technique later used by such shows as L.A. Law and ER).
The whole series can now be viewed on YouTubehere. Currently (2014) the complete series is also available as a region 1 DVD box.
This series contains examples of:
The Alcoholic: Detective LaRue and Captain Furillo are both in recovery. Furillo's struggles and subsequent lapse are the focus of one arc.
Always Murder: Conspicuously averted, at least by modern standards. Actual homicides are quite rare, and when they do happen they usually kick off a multi-episode story arc. Doubly so if a police officer gets killed.
Amoral Attorney: The police officers view Joyce Davenport as this, since she sometimes seems determined to defend people who "everybody" knows are guilty, and sometimes invokes technicalities to get them off. However, the show makes clear that she is anything but amoral; it's her strong sense of morality that drives her to defend poor people against the system, even though this may have the unfortunate result of guilty people going free. This conflict gives her adversary at work/lover in private Frank Furillo some headaches. Sometimes her liberal ideology drives her to deride the police as the neighborhood's "Nazi occupation force," but over the course of the series she seems to come to appreciate that the police are the good guys.
Buddy Cops: Though not a Buddy Cop Show in the traditional sense, it features several more or less permanent pairings: Hill & Renko, Bates & Coffey, La Rue & Washington, Flaherty & Russo.
Bungled Suicide: Howard Hunter, though it is more of a sabotaged suicide; La Rue apparently figures out what he is planning and replaces his service revolver's ammunition with blanks.
Belker, with his somewhat unconventional methods of anger management.
Lt. Hunter. His rather academic and philosophical way of approaching life, coupled with a survivalist right-wing ideology, makes him seem a bit awkward and disconnected from reality at times.
Judge Wachtel, who appears in the courtroom wearing a dress, on the advice of his psychiatrist. He's otherwise presented as a Wholesome Crossdresser, but crossdressing in the courtroom caused a few raised eyebrows.
Don't Tell Mama: When the minor crook that Belker is constantly booking dies in an unrelated gunfight, he finally tells Belker his real name so Belker can at least let his mother know about his death. When Belker talks to her, he tells her about what a fine citizen her son had been.
Dramedy: Though it isn't quite a dramedy in the sense described by its trope definition (the show was billed as drama, not as comedy, and drama tended to take precedence over comedy) many of the subplots and events are comedic, sometimes bordering on slapstick. The stark reality of a poor, high-crime neighbourhood is often viewed as a dark, absurd comedy.
Fanservice: The numerous bedroom scenes with Frank and Joyce should qualify. Nothing explicit is shown, though, and in general the show is much lighter on nudity than its successor, NYPD Blue.
Lieutenant Hunter and a friend are buried in a building collapse and are not found until several days later, the friend having died in the mean time. An autopsy reveals that the friend's body has human bite marks, which leads to Captain Furillo asking Hunter if he ate his friend. Hunter frankly admits to it, saying that he and his friend had made a pact that if they were ever in a desperate enough situation and one of them died, the survivor should use the deceased for sustenance. Furillo orders Hunter to never say a word about it and presumably proceeds to make sure word of it never gets out because having to deal with the frenzy over one of his officers being a cannibal is the last thing he needs to deal with.
A one-shot character who would eat things for money had once eaten part of his finger and now won't do that.
Instrumental Theme Tune: Composed by Mike Post. It was released as a single and hit #10 on the Billboard chart in 1981.
Internal Affairs: In one episode, an IA officer is sent to work undercover in the Hill Street station. The cops uncover her identity and are severely annoyed.
Jitter Cam: Came into wide US use through this series.
The names of some of police precincts (Hill Street, South Ferry, Jefferson Heights) are taken from neighborhoods in Buffalo, and Steven Bochco modeled the Hill Street precinct on Pittsburgh's troubled Hill District.
Philadelphia City Hall is seen in several episodes.
The marked police cars' graphics resemble those of Chicago, and rumor at the time was that the Chicago PD did not allow the producers to use "CHICAGO POLICE" logos and graphics after the experience of The Blues Brothers.
One of the last scenes in the pilot reveals that Furillo and Davenport are lovers.
After getting into difficulties because of his drinking, J.D. La Rue is ordered by Captain Furillo to join AA as a condition of keeping his job. He goes to his first AA meeting and sees recovering alcoholic Captain Furillo there.
Secret Relationship: Captain Frank Furillo and public defender Joyce Davenport. In the pilot episode she spends all day sparring with him. In one of the last scenes, she's seen in the bedroom, complaining to her paramour about how the police are Hill Street's "Nazi occupation force." Then comes The Reveal: her paramour is none other than Police Captain Furillo, the commander of Hill Street precinct! Over the course of the series, the relationship comes out into the open and they eventually marry.
Shell-Shocked Veteran: Being set less than a decade after The Vietnam War, the show has quite a number of one-off characters to whom the war has not been at all kind, and two regular cast members are veterans themselves.
Something Blues: The show's title follows this common pattern, but is also an allusion to "blues" as in "uniformed police officers".
Straw Feminist: In-universe, Fay Furillo is obviously familiar with the trope and takes care to avert it: when she tells her ex-husband that she has joined a feminist group, she emphasises that she is not going to burn her bra. Frank is visibly relieved.
Stuffed into a Trashcan: The show's first TV Guide advert featured Jack Davis style sketches of the cast sitting on the lid of a trash can with the hands and feet of criminals sticking out here and there.
Suspiciously Similar Substitute: When Michael Conrad dies early in Season 4, his Sgt. Esterhaus os replaced with Robert Prosky's Sgt. Jablonski (who even uses a similar catchphrase to close out the briefing at the top of each episode).
SWAT Team: Unusually for a Police Procedural, Emergency Action Team (the term used in the show's police force) commander Lt. Howard Hunter is a regular cast member, and some of the team achieve Recurring Extra status.
The Eighties: but in a poor part of town that is very far from the glitzy world of Miami Vice. Also, in the first few seasons it's the very early Eighties, and much of The Seventies remains.
Two Words: Obvious Trope: One detective to another, discussing why the latter should stay away from a flirty high-school student:
When an attractive female witness is being fitted with a Hidden Wire, and a detective suggests that the microphone should be attached to her bra - to which she replies that she will have to go out and buy one first.
Discussed at roll call one summer morning, when Sgt. Esterhaus mentions that the female officers' request to dispense with supportive undergarments (due to the heat wave) has been denied.
Wholesome Crossdresser: Jeffrey Tambor plays the cross-dressing lawyer, later judge, Wachtel, who was doing so on the advice of his psychiatrist "to resolve his feminine-identity issues". It works.
You Look Familiar: Dennis Franz comes in as a very memorable several-episode character in Season 3 (the corrupt Detective Sal Benedetto), then is cast as Buntz in Season 6.